MAC: Mines and Communities

Latin American Update

Published by MAC on 2006-10-08

Latin American Update

8th October 2006

Last week sixteen miners were killed, and more than 60 wounded, during a series of confrontations in the Huanuni tin mining area of Oruro, Bolivia. The bloody "clashes" followed attempts by members of smallscale mining cooperatives, to take over tin deposits within leases granted to state-owned Comibol. According to Reuters (October 6 2006), the state miners had themselves set up a highway blockade at Huanuni in late September, demanding more jobs at the mine. And, earlier in the week, says Mineweb (October 6 2006), "political and community leaders from Bolivia’s four richest regions threatened to disobey a new constitution if it is passed by a simple majority of the Constitutional Assembly. This would have started to fulfil president Morales' promise to empower the country's majority Indigenous population."

Three years ago Bolivian miners had set up roadblocks in three states, demanding that the state mining industry be reactivated in favour of the poor - in particular those thrown out of work by the privatisation of Comibol, under the disgraced former president, "Goni" Lozado.

Two years ago, dis-employed tin miners seized the Caracoles Mine, Bolivia’s third largest tin producer and occupied it for several months pressing their demand for jobs. And there have been similar conflicts since.

On Saturday October 7 it seemed that a truce was in place, after Morales sacked both the minister of mines and the head of Comibol.

It would be a serious error to dismiss these tragic events as mere "in fighting". At the root of the tragedy is the neo-liberisation of Bolivia's economy in the eighties which resulted in the evisceration of Comibol and the dismissal of thousands of Indigenous miners (including many women and children), left to their own resources; or rather, to mining hundreds of scattered deposits, some virtually with their bare hands. Miners on both sides of the current conflict look to Morales to resolve a crisis which is not of his own making - and certainly not open to easy resolution.

Just before these events unfolded in Bolvia, reports from southeastern Venezuela claimed that four or six smallscale gold miners in the jungle region of La Paragua (Venezuela) had been shot dead and 22 injured, when troops opened fire. President Hugo Chavez has ordered an investigation, promising that any soldiers found guility would be brought to justice.

In Guatemala, indigenous Maya families have consolidated their occupation of property "owned" by Canadian nickel miner, Skye Resources, demanding land.

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